How do you know when it's the College World Series? Everyone defines it differently.
“Some LSU fans were already here on Tuesday night,” said Karen Barrett-Jeffrey, the manager and co-owner of Barrett's Barleycorn. “I played the fight song and I had to do a shot with them. I'm still feeling it.”
It's been four years since the Tigers have been to the CWS. A couple of things have changed.
For instance, Tiger fans, you might need some directions. And this goes for Oregon State's Beaver Nation and the fans of Louisville, Mississippi State and North Carolina State.
(If there's anyone here from N.C. State's last CWS in 1968, we need to get you a city map.)
When you guys come across the bridge into Omaha, don't turn left. Turn right.
If you try to find Rosenblatt Stadium, you're going to run into a Joni Mitchell song. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
The Zesto is still there, but it's closed. The Stadium View sports shop might or might not be open, depending on the mood of the proprietor, Greg Pivovar.
The parking lot where so many Tiger fans graced our tailgates with their spice for life? Now a maze of Omaha zoo parking.
By all means, go ahead and park the car and see the new Rosenblatt tribute park. I expect we'll see fans from all teams, including the first-time Hoosiers looking to see where the Hinkle Fieldhouse of college baseball used to stand.
You'll probably see folks in purple and gold surrounding the right field foul pole. Both foul poles were left behind, as a terrific memorial. Now, there are parked zoo cars where the outfield used to be. And the right field foul pole is now next to parking row “C,” which is marked by a cheetah.
Cheetah, Tigers, it's close enough.
For LSU fans, it's not about the cat. It's about the historical marker of Warren Morris' 1996 walk-off home run, which hugged the right field pole. You might see several Tiger fans hugging that landmark.
When you're ready to get back to the future, head north up 13th Street. Don't stop until you see the Road to Omaha statue, next to something that resembles a big-league stadium.
UCLA and North Carolina know the drill. For the rest of you newbies, here's the Cliffs Notes on the “new” CWS, the one you won't recognize.
You might be able to walk from your hotel, which will be new. Or park your car in a stall, and not someone's front yard, which might actually save you money.
There's tailgating, but it's a little farther away, in lot D, and some in B. But the CWS is now more like Wrigleyville, with surrounding eateries and pubs, including the rooftop bar across from right field.
There's a Baseball Village where you can play the “Lobster Zone.” I'd like to see LSU football coach Les Miles try to grab a lobster.
And, yes, there's a smaller version of Zesto, so this isn't a complete Twilight Zone episode for long, lost fans.
But what LSU fans, and Beaver Nation, and all the rest, are seeing here this week is a CWS that Omaha is still trying on. Some like it, some aren't there yet, some never will be.
There's a sense this year that LSU may come to the rescue, with the relentless fans and the L-S-U chants and the traveling party. That maybe the Tigers and their faithful can take some of that cajun spice from Rosenblatt and deliver a similar kick to a TD Ameritrade Park in need of some character. Or characters.
I believe they can. Because the magic of the CWS is not in the bricks or grass.
Karen Barrett-Jeffrey has seen and heard it all week. The comfy Irish pub down on Leavenworth started its CWS tradition in a very CWS way.
Back in 1991, a Barrett's bartender named Don Clark was working at the hotel where LSU fans were staying. He told a few of them to come try Barrett's. They did. They spread the word.
Now there are LSU flags flying out front, an autographed photo of baseball coach Paul Mainieri above the bar, a poster of LSU's football stadium and a “Deep South” Tigers banner that LSU fans have signed for two decades.
They'll be back this year, after a three-year hiatus, and not a moment too soon. Barrett-Jeffrey said the bar has lost $150,000 each of the first three years that the CWS has been downtown, because a lot of bar traffic has stayed downtown.
That also coincided with no LSU here. Man, that loss to Stony Brook really hurt.
“I'm anxious to see how we do with LSU fans here and the series downtown,” Barrett-Jeffrey said. “It's a brand new game this time.”
You can say that again. Oregon State will help, too. Beaver Nation livened up the joint when Oregon State went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. South Carolina fans showed their feathers the last few years. But the LSU Tiger is a different animal.
It's hard to describe, but here's an old story to try. Back in the late 1990s, an LSU fan named Russell Mendoza was here on his umpteenth trip to the CWS, to follow his Tigers, party the week away. Only this time was different. This time, Russell had cancer. His prognosis wasn't good.
Mendoza canceled some appointments to chemotherapy in order to go to the CWS. He would die months later. But before his final CWS, Mendoza's doctor asked him what was so important about going to Omaha.
“Doc, we don't know if that chemo is going to work,” Mendoza said. “But the College World Series always works.”
The CWS always works because of the people, the fans, the characters, the spirit. The new CWS could use some of that LSU mojo. Just make sure they turn right.
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